By Jeanne M. Dams
I think most of us are old enough to remember, back in the 80s or so, the Round Tuit. If you’re too young or have had a merciful memory lapse, the thing was a large round white object something like a political button, with the word TUIT on it. The idea was, if you’d been putting off something because you just couldn’t get around to it, here was your problem solved. Just too cute for words.
Well, I’ve decided I need one. I’m thinking about submitting myself to the Guinness people as the world’s greatest procrastinator. When I should be sitting down to write, any excuse to put it off will do. Scrub the kitchen floor. Go to the grocery. Pay the bills. Feed the cats. Play FreeCell. Take a nap. Tidy up the office. Write a blog. And because most of these things actually need to be done (okay, maybe not the nap and the computer game), I can shove away the guilt feelings.
The fact is that, like (I suspect) many other writers, I don’t want to write nearly as much as I want to have written. I get this wonderful idea for a book and savor it, daydreaming about how terrific it’s going to be. I plan characters and situations and draft a rough outline. Then I have to sit down and write the thing, a deadline staring me in the face, and I come up against the reality that writing is work. And I’m a very lazy person.
Why is this, I wonder? Once I get down to actually doing it, writing is exciting. Dorothy Sayers said it best: “When you get the thing dead right and you know it’s dead right…you feel like God on the seventh day.” Of course dead right doesn’t often happen. Most of the time it’s that’ll do. But even that is satisfying in its way. So why am I so loath to settle down and get the job done?
Shortly after Christmas it hit me like a punch in the stomach that I was far behind on my book that’s due at the end of March. I realized that I was going to have to get away to a place where there were no floors to scrub or cats to feed, no distractions, a place where there was so much peace and quiet I’d be forced to write or go mad from inactivity.
Now I don’t have a lot of money to blow on hotel bills. I thought about one of Indiana’s state parks, which are beautiful in winter. But even off-season lodge rates are a bit salty for my budget. And there are distractions. A lovely great room, for one thing, with a roaring fire and people to talk to and jigsaw puzzles. Then there are the trails to walk. Great for a vacation. Not so great for work.
Then I came up with the perfect solution. About an hour north of where I live is an Episcopal Benedictine monastery, St. Gregory’s Abbey. The fee for one’s room and board is whatever you wish to pay. As for peace and quiet, it’s hard to imagine a place where they’re in greater supply than an abbey.
So I booked a room (by email–Brother Cadfael would have been amused), arranged for a friend to look after the cats, packed my laptop, and took off.
I went for purely selfish reasons: to write, and write, and write. I hadn’t expected my stay to be a spiritual experience, though in fact those five days changed my life. If you’ve read Louise Penny’s wonderful new book, The Beautiful Mystery, you’ll have some idea. (And if you haven’t, I strongly recommend it.) There’s something incredible about being enveloped in a cloak of silence and prayer, but this is perhaps not the forum to go into that. The point here is that it worked. I wrote 20,000 words in those five days and came home to get 10,000 more done in the following week. I’ve slowed down since, but I’m on track now, and I’ll make that deadline easily.
I think now I’d better go put on my CD of the Santo Domingo monks and get back to work. Maybe I’ll find my round tuit again.